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A Terrible Beauty Is Born: 
Selected Poems 

of William Butler Yeats 

Edited by Raymond Soulard, Jr. 

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Portland, O r e g o k 

Scriptor Press 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: 

Selected Poems 

of William Butler Yeats 

Edited by Raymond Soulard, Jr. 

Number Nineteen 

This volume is for Patty Kisluk 

Burning Man Books is a special projects division imprint of 

Scriptor Press 

2442 NW Market Street, #68 

Seattle, WA 98107 

This volume was composed 

in the Adobe Garamond and Aachen fonts 

in PageMaker 6.5 on the 

Macintosh G4 computer 

Leda and the Swan 

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still 
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed 
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, 
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. 
How can those terrified vague fingers push 
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? 
And how can body, laid in that white rush, 
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? 
A shudder in the loins engenders there 
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower 
And Agamemnon dead. 
Being so caught up, 

So mastered by the brute blood of the air, 
Did she put on his knowledge with his power 
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop? 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 5 

Among School Children 


I walk through the long schoolroom questioning; 

A kind old nun in a white hood replies; 

The children learn to cipher and to sing, 

To study reading-books and history, 

To cut and sew, be neat in everything 

In the best modern way — the children's eyes 

In momentary wonder stare upon 

A sixty-year-old smiling public man. 


I dream of a Ledaean body, bent 

Above a sinking fire, a tale that she 

Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event 

That changed some childish day to tragedy — 

Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent 

Into a sphere from youthful sympathy, 

Or else, to alter Plato's parable, 

Into the yolk and white of the one shell. 


And thinking of that fit of grief or rage 
I look upon one child or t'other there 
And wonder if she stood so at that age — 
For even daughters of the swan can share 
Something of every paddler's heritage — 
And had that colour upon cheek or hair, 
And thereupon my heart is driven wild: 
She stands before me as a living child. 


Her present image floats into the mind — 
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it 
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind 
And took a mess of shadows for its meat? 
And I though never of Ledaean kind 
Had pretty plumage once — enough of that, 
Better to smile on all that smile, and show 
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow. 


What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap 

Honey of generation had betrayed, 

And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape 

As recollection or the drug decide, 

Would think her son, did she but see that shape 

With sixty or more winters on its head, 

A compensation for the pang of his birth, 

Or the uncertainty of his setting forth? 


Plato thought nature but a spume that plays 
Upon a ghosdy paradigm of things; 
Solider Aristode played the taws 
Upon the bottom of a king of kings; 
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras 
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings 
What a star sang and careless Muses heard: 
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird. 

6 • William Butler Yeats 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 7 


Both nuns and mothers worship images, 
But those the candles light are not as those 
That animate a mother's reveries, 
But keep a marble or a bronze repose. 
And yet they too break hearts — O Presences 
That passion, piety or affection knows, 
And that all heavenly glory symbolise — 
O self-born mockers of man's enterprise; 

A Meditation in Time of War 

For one throb of the artery, 
While on that old grey stone I sat 
Under the old wind-broken tree, 
I knew that One is animate, 
Mankind inanimate phantasy. 


Labour is blossoming or dancing where 
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul, 
Nor beauty born out of its own despair, 
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil. 
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, 
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? 
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, 
How can we know the dancer from the dance? 

8 • William Butler Yeats 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 9 

Easter, 1916 

I have met them at close of day 

Coming with vivid faces 

From counter or desk among grey 

Eighteenth- century houses. 

I have passed with a nod of the head 

Or polite meaningless words, 

Or have lingered awhile and said 

Polite meaningless words, 

And thought before I had done 

Of a mocking tale or a gibe 

To please a companion 

Around the fire at the club, 

Being certain that they and I 

But lived where modey is worn: 

All changed, changed utterly: 

A terrible beauty is born. 

That woman's days were spent 

In ignorant good-will, 

Her nights in argument 

Until her voice grew shrill. 

What voice more sweet than hers 

When, young and beautiful, 

She rode to harriers? 

This man had kept a school 

And rode our winged horse; 

This other his helper and friend 

Was coming into his force; 

He might have won fame in the end, 

So sensitive his nature seemed, 

So daring and sweet his thought. 

This other man I had dreamed 

A drunken, vainglorious lout. 

He had done most bitter wrong 

To some who are near my heart, 

Yet I number him in the song; 

He, too, has resigned his part 

In the casual comedy; 

He, too, has been changed in his turn, 

Transformed utterly: 

A terrible beauty is born. 

Hearts with one purpose alone 

Through summer and winter seem 

Enchanted to a stone 

To trouble the living stream. 

The horse that comes from the road, 

The rider, the birds that range 

From cloud to tumbling cloud, 

Minute by minute they change; 

A shadow of cloud on the stream 

Changes minute by minute; 

A horse-hoof slides on the brim, 

And a horse plashes within it; 

The long-legged moor-hens dive, 

And hens to moor-cocks call; 

Minute by minute they live: 

The stones in the midst of all. 

Too long a sacrifice 

Can make a stone of the heart. 

when may it suffice? 

That is Heavens part, our part 
To murmur name upon name, 
As a mother names her child 
When sleep at last has come 
On limbs that had run wild. 
What is it but nightfall? 
No, no, not night but death; 
Was it needless death after all? 
For England may keep faith 
For all that is done and said. 
We know their dream; enough 
To know they dreamed and are dead; 
And what if excess of love 
Bewildered them till they died? 

1 write it out in a verse — 
MacDonagh and MacBride 
And Connolly and Pearse 
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 

Are changed, changed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born. 

10 • William Butler Yeats 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 11 

Towards Break of Day 

The Second Coming 

Was it the double of my dream 

The woman that by me lay 

Dreamed, or did we halve a dream 

Under the first cold gleam of day? 

I thought: 'There is a waterfall 

Upon Ben Bulben side 

That all my childhood counted dear; 

Were I to travel far and wide 

I could not find a thing so dear.' 

My memories had magnified 

So many times childish delight. 

I would have touched it like a child 

But knew my finger could but have touched 

Cold stone and water. I grew wild 

Even accusing Heaven because 

It had set down among its laws: 

Nothing that we love over-much 

Is ponderable to our touch. 

I dreamed towards break of day 

The cold blown spray in my nostril. 

But she that beside me lay 

Had watched in bitterer sleep 

The marvellous stag of Arthur, 

That lofty white stag, leap 

From mountain steep to steep. 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre 

The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst 

Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand; 

Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out 

When a vast image out oiSpiritus Mundi 

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert 

A shape with lion body and the head of a man, 

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it 

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 

The darkness drops again; but now I know 

That twenty centuries of stony sleep 

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

12 • William Butler Yeats 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 13 

Sailing to Byzantium 


That is no country for old men. The young 
In one another's arms, birds in the trees, 
— Those dying generations — at their song, 
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, 
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long 
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. 
Caught in that sensual music all neglect 
Monuments of unageing intellect. 


Once out of nature I shall never take 

My bodily form from any natural thing, 

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make 

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling 

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; 

Or set upon a golden bough to sing 

To lords and ladies of Byzantium 

Of what is past, or passing, or to come. 


An aged man is but a paltry thing, 

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing 

For every tatter in its mortal dress, 

Nor is there singing school but studying 

Monuments of its own magnificence; 

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come 

To the holy city of Byzantium. 


O sages standing in God's holy fire 
As in the gold mosaic of a wall, 
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, 
And be the singing-masters of my soul. 
Consume my heart away; sick with desire 
And fastened to a dying animal 
It knows not what it is; and gather me 
Into the artifice of eternity. 

14 • William Butler Yeats 

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: Selected Poems • 15 

The Choice 

The intellect of man is forced to choose 
Perfection of the life, or of the work, 
And if it take the second must refuse 
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark 
When all that story's finished, what's the news? 
In luck or out the toil has left its mark: 
That old perplexity an empty purse, 
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse. 

Remorse for Intemperate Speech 

I ranted to the knave and fool, 

But outgrew that school, 

Would transform the part, 

Fit audience found, but cannot rule 

My fanatic heart. 

I sought my betters: though in each 

Fine manners, liberal speech, 

Turn hatred into sport, 

Nothing said or done can reach 

My fanatic heart. 

Out of Ireland have we come. 

Great hatred, little room, 

Maimed us at the start. 

I carry from my mother's womb 

A fanatic heart. 

16 • William Butler Yeats